Meadow larks threw out their cheery notes, and purple crocuses peeped
through the matted brown prairie wool, when I set out on a sunny May morning in 1910 upon a solitary
one hundred mile drive. My route lay along the trail, which followed the main line of the Canadian
Pacific Railway west, from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Here and there squat shacks of homesteaders dotted the broad plains, which an old mail driver once described as fine country, but too much outdoors.
Bustling towns were springing up as fast as carpenters could nail boards together. A new empire was in the making, and everywhere was an atmosphere of eagerness to get on with the job.
This thrilling spirit of conquering new worlds was shared by myself, for I was embarking on my first missionary adventure. An Eastern visitor made the sage observation that in these new towns there were three or four elevators to elevate the wheat, but not a church to lift up the people.
I was going out to help remedy this defect; to found missions and build churches where there had never been places of worship; to work on virgin soil as the pioneer plough men were turning sod for the first time. It was true that I had only had one year in College as a charter member of Saskatchewan University and Emmanuel College, Saskatoon. Yet I was not exactly a tenderfoot, as I had spent three years teaching prairie schools and homesteading.
I was fired with youthful visions of service, and had once declared to a classmate that if I ever wrote a book it would be upon the theme of St. Matthew 20:28... "...even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister."
One of my uncles thought, that as a seventh son, I should have taken up law, or medicine, and done something worth while instead of wasting my time in the ministry. My father said nothing to me directly, but to my mother he expressed his disappointment that I was going in for a life that would always keep me poor. Prophetic word. I have reason to believe, however, that my father's views changed somewhat with the passing years.
Any thought I may have entertained that I had made an heroic choice of profession was rudely shocked though by the remark of a mother who told me that since her Reginald had failed utterly at school, was not interested in farming, and did not take to storekeeping, they were going to put him into the church.
On this auspicious morning, my destination was a newly settled district forty miles north of Morse, and across the Saskatchewan River. Its post office bore the genial name of Sunkist, and was situated in a municipality known by the promised land of Canaan. The area was bounded on the south and east by the river, while to the north and west my territory extended as far as I cared to travel.
My Rural Dean, and Mission Superintendent the Rev. William Simpson gave me the name, section number, township and range of a settler he had met from that area, and instructed me to seek him out, and confer with him as to my future operations. This man, David Anderson, had located a number of homesteaders, and thus had a wide knowledge of the district.
My equipage consisted of a crop eared pony, and an open buggy. Into this vehicle I packed a summer's supply of clothing, books and accessories, until there was scarcely room for the driver. As I was about to depart, the Rural Dean's wife came out of the vicarage bearing one more parcel. With Santa Claus optimism regarding the capacity of my buggy, she insisted that her package could be squeezed in somehow. "You may need this
on your trip", she said.
The likelihood of any emergency requiring the use of rope, and opined
"Nothing in that outfit will break down, unless it's the man". However the rope went along
as excess baggage.
For no other reason than that the name had stuck in my mind from some book or university lecture, I called my pony "Artemodorus". I afterwards shortened this name to "Artie". He was dappled grey, fat as butter, and geared to travel eight miles an hour at high speed. He was a willing beast content to keep plodding along, and did not object to overtime.
The deep rutted trail, originally gouged out by ox-carts and prairie schooners, wormed its way around alkali sloughs where wild ducks nested. It crossed level tracts of plain, and ran up and down the Secretan Hills where little herds of shy antelope grazed. Railway section houses provided the only stopping places. After two long days of travel I reached the town of Morse. Today automobiles make this same journey over Number One Highway in little than an hour.
The trail north from Morse led through the Rolling Hills, feeding ground for some four thousand longhorns belonging to Gordon, Ironside and Fares. The great rangy beast lined up, as if to challenge our passing through their domain. They sniffed the air, and tossed their heads. I was glad when some cowboys came riding over the range, and took the herd's attention. Nevertheless I did not loiter by the way, and felt safer when I had seen the last of these animals.
At a later date I was to drive through the same range when the herd was in a state of great commotion, for it was the dipping season. Riders were corralling the cattle, and driving them through a submerged tank of warm disinfectant fluid. Young and old alike were forced to take the plunge into the pool, from which they swam out at the other end. There was a continuous chorus of calves bleating in fear, and mother cows bawling in distress for their young.
At other times I was to see the vast herd divided into groups extended over the undulating range as far as vision could carry. The animals grazing peacefully thus, suggested the Psalmist's "Cattle upon a thousand hills".
My first view of the Saskatchewan River at Log Valley ferry crossing, gave me the impression of a great bronze serpent crouching between high screening banks. I paused at the brink of the descent and looked over the tops of shrubs and tall poplar trees that grew on the banks below. Away to the west the Snake Bite Coulee cut through the north bank, while to the east the river took a sharp turn like a bent elbow. The ferry road wound and twisted in S curves and hairpin bends down from bench to bench for a full mile and a half before eventually reaching the water's edge.
Artie moved downhill cautiously, bracing himself to hold back the loaded buggy, which at times threatened to offset his balance. I held the reins taut, and spoke to reassure him. At my last stopping place I had been told of a homesteader having been killed by his wagon overturning upon him at this crossing. I was pondering how easy it would be for an accident of this kind to happen on such a hill road, when a ring pulled out of Artie's breeching and the buggy shot forward upon his haunches. He bolted, and commenced what bid fair to becoming a mad plunge to destruction. However, we came upon a nearly level stretch of road at the bottom of a bench, and Artie, relieved of the buggy's pressure, calmed down and stopped. I mended the harness with a piece of the rope, which Mrs. Simpson had stowed amongst my baggage just in case.
Arrived at the ferry approach, I found that there could be no crossings that day due to a strong adverse wind, so I
arranged to spend the night at a nearby ranch. Next
morning, with a few other travelers I boarded the ferry, which was a large scow, capable of carrying
six or eight teams and wagons.
The scow was attached to an overhead cable by a heavy rope, which passed through pulleys at each end, around a helm in the centre of one side, and thence through another pair of pulleys that rode upon the cable. By turning the helm, the scow was pointed upstream and the swift current propelled the boat across the river. The return trip was made by reversing the wheel, thus pointing the other end of the scow upstream.
I had read "The Houseboat On the Styx" and delighted in revellings of the departed shades of William Shakespeare, Lucretia Borgia, and those other illustrious characters which a highly imaginative author depicted as disporting themselves in the Stygian gloom. Most of all I was intrigued with the curious old ferryman, Charon, who was so jealous of his ferry service.
By way of contrast, my ferryman of Log Valley was young and agile, though he confessed that he could not swim, which I thought should have been the first qualification of a ferry operator. But what Frenchy lacked in natural ability he made up in loquacity. Like the Ancient Mariner, he held his audience. He had an inexhaustible fund of stories and a flair for telling them. The river was a quarter of a mile wide and the crossing took about a half an hour, so there was ample time for the raconteur to work off several yarns on passengers, who had not already heard them more than a dozen times.
I had not long been on board before I heard the anecdote of the stranger who asked Frenchy if he ever saw any antelope in the river banks.
"Lots of them", replied the ferryman.
"Do you ever get a shot at them?" pursued the stranger.
"I sure do", boasted Frenchy "Whenever I want fresh meat".
Whereupon the stranger admonished the ferryman to be careful about revealing secrets to casual passengers.
"Do you know who I am?", he asked.
"Well," declared the man, "I am the Chief Provincial Game Warden".
"And do you know who I am?" asked Frenchy.
"Well, I 'm the biggest liar in Saskatchewan".
October 17, 1966
The writer has just had a letter from an old prairie friend, an elderly widow whose post office is now Glen Kerr, Sask. She is Mrs. Ada Pass, and used to live at Log Valley, Sask., the old ferry crossing, where I spent my first night in what later became part of my old Sunkist Mission. She tells me the ferryman's old house in the bush on the river shore is completely inundated, the level of the river having been raised by the building of the big dam, recently named the "J. G. Gardiner" dam, after a noted pioneer agriculturalist and M.P.A.
She says the country looks different now, standing on the river hills, and seeing many of our picnic spots covered by water. I find it hard to visualize the countryside so vastly changed by man, who has altered the face of the earth since it was laid out by the Creator's hand. The old log valley post-office which Mrs. Pass used to run has been closed for some time, and the ferry no longer crosses the river at that point. The river is now so wide there is no current to operate a ferry, and motors are used on the Saskatchewan River ferriers. Thus do times and customs change.